If you’re familiar with blues chords and ready to start trying your hand at some riffs, this exercise from guitar teacher Samuel B. will help you get the ball rolling…
As an instructor (and blues guitar afficionado), I’m keen on you developing a working knowledge of the blues. The blues is the musicological basis of all recognizable forms of American music (gospel, contemporary country, soul, rhythm & blues, bluegrass, early rock n roll, the list goes on). Therefore, said knowledge will improve your fluidity and integrity regardless of whether or not the blues becomes your supreme element.
It’s easy to confuse the form’s structural simplicity (the same three chords in the same order) with a supposed simplicity inherent to blues guitar. First you’ll want to learn first-position chords in the key of E (E, A, and B7 – the most blues-friendly chords in my experience):
As well, you should practice the blues scale in the key of E (beginning on the 9th fret):
Chords are the basis for rhythm guitar work. Scales are the basis for soloing. These are two completely unrelated elements. The following guitar tab serves as a pedagogical “lubricant” in between them (a trick I learned while being taught Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride And Joy”) and will benefit you regarding both your conditioning and your repertoire:
If your’re familiar with blues guitar already, then you may have deduced that this sequence aligns with the first two-thirds of the twelve-bar blues chord progression. The remaining one-third (the B7th, A, E descent – one measure per chord) involves one relevant sequence per chord:
(repeat 3 more times)
(repeat 2 more times)
Once you’ve learned to play this sequence smoothly, there are several ways to decorate the sequence. Among them are hammer-ons and pull-offs. As suggested by the name, a hammer-on is a single note altered by way of a left (not right) hand fourth-finger addition:
In this case, your index finger is “O” and your fourth one is “X.” The string is played only once with the right hand, but augmented with an extra note from the left literally hammered on to the vibrating string. You can also produce hammer-ons on open strings with your third finger:
Inversely, pull-offs involve your left hand’s fourth finger (or third in the case of open strings) releasing a vibrating note:
Play around with these suggestions and see what works for you. You may develop some tricks of your own. As a teenager, I created a unique warping effect by holding down and bending two strings with one finger. Above all, have fun and don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
Samuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!
Photo by nociveglia